- Museum number
Grey-brown chalcedony cylinder seal; a beardless worshipper in a fringed robe stands facing left, points with his raised right hand and extends the other palm up. Facing him, one on either side, are two indentical bearded gods who wear square, globe-topped head-dresses and tiered, vertically striated open robes over fringed kilts, with a sword at the waist and crossed, globe-tipped bow-cases on their backs; they raise their right hands and hold a ring in their left. Behind the gods are the Pleiades, above a diagonal fish; in front of the worshipper is a crescent, above the wedge or stylus of Nabu, and behind him is a rhomb, set diagonally. Line borders at top and bottom. Edges chipped, particularly the lower one. Slightly convex ends.
Diameter: 1.60 centimetres
Height: 4.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- "Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years" catalogue entry
D Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals in the Ancient Near East (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
Cylinder seals were used in the Ancient Near East from about 3400 BC for over three thousand years. They were, as their name implies, cylindrical, generally made of stone and carved with a design in intaglio so that when they were rolled out on clay they left a continuous and repeating design in relief. Generally they were perforated longitudinally so that they could be worn round the owner's neck or wrist, or fastened to a pin attached to his or her garment. The cylinder seal was particularly adapted to use in Mesopotamia (now Iraq and north-eastern Syria) where clay was plentiful and where the cuneiform system of writing on clay tablets developed.
The seals are illustrated by their modern impressions and it is these which are described, generally from left to right. Dimensions are those of the height x diameter of the seal.
Cylinder seal with a worshipper between gods
Northern Iraq, Neo-Assyrian, late 9th-8th century BC
4.3 x 1.6 cm
Purchased in 1846 (ex J R Steuart Collection)
A beardless figure in a fringed robe stands facing left with one hand raised and one extended. Two bearded deities stand on either side facing him, each with his right hand raised and extending a ring (symbol of divinity) in his left; both wear cylindrical headdresses topped by stars, with tassels hanging down their backs and tiered open skirts over short fringed and tasselled kilts, they have crossed bows in bow-cases on their backs, the ends of which are visible above their shoulders and at their waists, and wear swords in their broad belts. Above the worshipper is a crescent and before him is the wedge or stylus of Nabu, god of writing; behind him is a rhomb (a fertility symbol) and behind the gods are the seven globes of the Pleiades and a fish. Line borders top and bottom.
Beardless figures in Neo-Assyrian times are generally thought to be eunuchs who were high officials in the administration (hence probably the prominence of the Nabu symbol), often acting as generals during military campaigns and serving as city or provincial governors. They were particularly powerful during the reigns of weak Assyrian kings between 823 and 743 BC and their seals show them receiving authority directly from the gods rather than the king. The exact identity of these warrior gods is not certain.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
- Fair; edges chipped, particularly the lower one (2006 condition report).
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number